Learning to Respond to COVID-19 from Early Christians: Eusebius from his Ecclesiastical History

The Chronicles of Gilles Li Muisis plague

One of the most distinctive aspects of the early Christians was the manner in which they responded to troubles themselves while also reaching out to others. As we prepare for what looks to be ongoing results of the COVID-19 pandemic, this is the moment for Christians of today to step forward by faith in relation to the needs not only of our Christian brothers and sisters, but to the community around us.

Eusebius of Caesarea, known as the father of church history, details the devastating effects of a plague which hit Caesarea in the early fourth-century, but also the manner in which the early Christians stepped forward in that time. May we be found faithful like them.

Countless numbers died in the cities and even more in the villages and countryside. Rural registers that were once full of names now were all but obliterated, since lack of food and disease destroyed almost the entire population at the same time. Some bartered their most precious possessions for the smallest scrap of food from those better supplied, while others sold their things little by little until they were reduced to desperation. Still others ruined their health and died from chewing wisps of hay and rashly eating poisonous herbs. As for the women, some ladies of the urban aristocracy were forced to beg shamelessly in the marketplaces, their embarrassment and their clothing revealed a noble upbringing.

Some shriveled like ghosts of the departed, staggered about… until they fell down, and as they lay in the middle of the streets they would beg for a small scrap of bread and, with their last gasp, cry out that they were hungry—anything more than this anguished cry was beyond them. The wealthier classes, astonished at the mass of beggars they were helping, changed to a hard and merciless attitude, since they assumed that before long they would be no better off. In the middle of the city squares and narrow lanes, naked bodies lay scattered about unburied for days on end—a most pitiful spectacle. Some were eaten by dogs, for which reason the living began killing dogs, for fear they might go mad and start devouring people.

No less horrible was the plague that infected every house, especially those that had survived the famine. The affluent, rulers, governors, and numerous officials, as if intentionally left by the famine for the plague, suffered a sudden bitter death. Moaning was heard everywhere, and funeral processions were seen in every lane, square, and street, with the usual flute playing and breast-beating. Death waging war with the two weapons of plague and famine, quickly devoured whole families, so that two or three bodies might be removed for burial in a single funeral procession.

In this awful adversity they alone [the Christian] gave practical proof of their sympathy and humanity. All day long some of them tended to the dying and to their burial, countless numbers with no one to care for them. Others gathered together from all parts of the city a multitude of those withered from famine and distributed bread to them all, so that their deeds were on everyone’s lips, and they glorified the God of the Christians. Such actions convinced them that they alone were pious and truly reverent to God.

After all this, God, the great, heavenly Champion of the Christians, having displayed his wrath to all men in return for their brutal assaults against us, restored his providence to us again and caused the light of peace to shine on us out of black darkness, as it were, making it clear to all that God himself had constantly been overseeing our affairs. Sometimes he scourged his people and in due time corrected them through trials, but after enough chastening, he showed mercy and kindness to those who had hope in him.

[From Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History, Book IX, Chapter 8]

The Weekend Wanderer: 28 March 2020

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

116238“To Cancel or Not to Cancel: That Is the Question” – Like so many other church leaders, I have wrestled with adjusting to the new challenges of this time of COVID-19. We quickly cancelled public gatherings, including weekend services, due to state and local governmental orders services, but also out of the desire to love our neighbor by not spreading the virus. I do know that many churches continue to struggle with these decisions and what it means to “not forsake meeting together” (Hebrews 10:25) while also “being subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1). Here is a joint statement on that topic issued by The National Association of Evangelicals and Christianity Today.


Tom Wright Coronavirus“Ask NT Wright Anything #33 – Tom on Coronavirus, self-isolating and praying through crisis” – If you’re not acquainted with the podcast, “Ask NT Wright Anything,” this is a perfect opportunity to do so. Hosted by Justin Brierley, this episode finds Tom Wright self-isolating in his home in Oxford, covering topics related to the Coronavirus pandemic. “They cover: How Christians can maintain spiritual health during isolation, the pastoral implications for churches now and in the future, and why God created a world where disease and sickness exist.”


_111407082_priest_976“Coronavirus: At least 50 priests killed by coronavirus” –  What does selfless love look like? Maybe like this. “The deadly coronavirus sweeping across the world has killed at least 50 priests, officials say. They include Father Giuseppe Berardelli, 72, who died early this month in Lovere, Bergamo – one of the worst-hit cities in Italy. Reports on Tuesday that he had chosen to give his respirator to a younger coronavirus patient he did not know have been denied by close friends. Italy is the world’s worst affected country with 6,820 deaths so far.”


Oberammergau

“Pandemic postpones Oberammergau ‘Passion Play,’ itself a response to a plague”  – In neighboring Germany, the COVID-19 pandemic is causing a different sort of change. “In 1632, when the bubonic plague was spreading death across Europe and killed at least one member of every family in a small Bavarian Alpine town, distraught villagers in Oberammergau made a vow to God to perform a Passion play depicting the death and resurrection of Christ if their lives could be spared. As the legend goes, no further deaths were recorded and the Passionspiele — reenacting the end of the life of Jesus — has been staged every decade, or 41 times, since 1634. The coronavirus pandemic has now forced the cancellation of the 2020 edition — a total of 109 five-hour-long performances scheduled to run from May 16 to October 4. Officials announced Thursday that the world-famous open-air production, which features 2,500 residents from the town of 5,400, would be postponed two years, to May 2022.”


When a third of the world died“When a Third of the World Died” – History is important in the present moment to help us gain perspective on our own time, but also to learn from the past. Here is Mark Galli’s 1996 article from Christian History about the black plague in 14th century Europe, and its impact on the world and the church. “From 1347 to about 1350, medieval Europe experienced perhaps the greatest calamity in human history. It shouldn’t surprise us that this plague, or the Black Death as it is often called, left its mark on medieval Christianity. But in many cases, the mark it left looked as hideous as the symptoms of the Black Death itself.”


Chung Sye-kyun“S.Korea to act against churches for defying COVID-19 guidelines” – “South Korea’s Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said on Monday that his government is planning legal action against some Protestant churches for going ahead with their services, defying the ban on social gatherings. The move comes after the government claim that social distancing measures have shown positive results. South Korea on Monday said that it has reported the lowest daily figure of new COVID-19 or novel coronavirus infection since its outbreak….Chung said stern measures would be taken against churches, who have defined guidelines, meant to stem the spread of the virus. ‘The act of churches has seriously hurt not only the safety of individuals attending the service but also communities,’ Chung said while heading a meeting of various government agencies.”


116306“Pastors from Europe Tell North America: Get Ready Now” – A pastor friend shared this article by Ed Stetzer with me and I found it incredibly helpful and challenging. “This week, the Send Institute hosted a Zoom call with pastors, church planters, and missionaries in Italy and Spain to show solidarity and to glean from them how to prepare North American churches for the next few weeks. The resounding theme from the call was: Get ready.


Communion“Worship and Sacrament When the Church Is Scattered” – Every once in awhile you experience something fun when you discover two people you know separately actually know each other. That happened to me this past week when The Pastor Theologians Podcast featured Chris Ganski of City Reformed Church here in Milwaukee with Benj Petroelje, who I know from a previous ministry setting, of 14th Street Christian Reformed Church in Holland, MI. In this conversation, the two pastors explores what it means to worship and celebrate the sacraments in the time of COVID-19.


 

Music: Kirk Franklin and the Family, “Now Behold the Lamb,” from Christmas

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

The Weekend Wanderer: 21 March 2020

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.


Microscopic view of Coronavirus, a pathogen that attacks the respiratory tract. Analysis and test, experimentation. Sars“Coronavirus Resource Center” – Please take a look at this resource from Harvard Medical School, which provides answers to important questions that many of us have about the nature of COVID-19. One of the most important things to read on this relates to the spread of the virus. “A recent study found that the COVID-19 coronavirus can survive up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard, and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel. The researchers also found that this virus can hang out as droplets in the air for up to three hours before they fall. But most often they will fall more quickly.” We should be aware of these facts and adjust appropriately, not just for our own sake but out of love for our neighbor.


1_lwPg8Ugu1wPz6XFcOpSgyA“Leading Beyond the Blizzard: Why Every Organization Is Now a Startup” – Andy Crouch, Kurt Keilhacker, and Dave Blanchard offer a sober look at how the COVID-19 pandemic is more than a blizzard we can wait out, but a potential ice age that will deeply affect the nature of all that we do for the next 12-18 months. I strongly encourage you to read this article. “In any case, responsible leaders have no choice, today, but to assume that the winter is upon us, and an ice age of unknown duration is before us. We are playing a game no one now living has ever played before. We are, for reasons only God knows, on the front line, on the starting team. Let us act boldly, today, to build as best we can, for the love of our neighbor and the glory of God.”


Spiritual Rhythms for Quarantine“Spiritual Rhythms for Quarantine” – If you’re not familiar with Justin Earley’s book, The Common Rule, I would highly recommend if you have free time now to give it a read. However, if you do not have capacity to read the entire book, I would strongly recommend that you take a look at this resource for individuals and groups adapted for the situation of quarantine related to COVID-19.


cs-lewis_at_desk“C.S. Lewis on Times of Fear” – Thanks to Chase Replogle of Pastor Writer for posting this extended quotation from C. S. Lewis on facing fears, followed by an extended reflection on Psalm 91. Writing from the context of post-World War II and the growing threats of the atomic age, Lewis’ words are bracing for us in this day. “In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. ‘How are we to live in an atomic age?’ I am tempted to reply: ‘Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.'”


116063“20 Prayers to Pray During This Pandemic” – Jen Pollock Michel writes: “In recent days, as COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic and countries have taken urgent measures to stem the spread of infection, I wish I could say that my first impulse has been to pray. It’s probably more honest to say that I’ve obsessively refreshed my feeds….With that in mind, I’ve put together a list of 20 prayers to pray during this pandemic. Each one addresses the specific needs of a specific community.”


article_5e6edf554f658“The Time of the Virus – Ephraim Radner offers this insightful look at the life of the church in what he terms “the time of the virus.” He looks at the calling to quarantine through the lens of jubilee, which may give us a new way of reflecting on this. He also sees the church’s struggle with the virus to actually be a challenge—a provocation—to be the church and engage the culture in new ways that we have missed in recent days.


fear not“Preaching in the Wake of COVID-19” – Preaching Today quickly pulled together a number of resources for pastors who are trying to figure out how to pivot the ministry of preaching to meet the changes of this day and time. Resources include Jeremy McKeen’s sermon “Christians and the Coronavirus” from Matthew 6, Max Lucado on “Facing Fears” as a preacher, Darrell Johnson on “Preaching During the COVID-19 Pandemic” with reference to Romans 8, Lee Eclov on “Preaching God’s Unfathomable Comfort,” Scott Gibson’s “Preaching and Panic,” and my own article “The Ministry of Preaching in the Time of COVID-19.” Thanks to the editors for the invitation to contribute and for so quickly pulling this resource together.


church cancelled“Places of worship need immediate government support, too” – Sean Speer and Brian Dijkema call for government attention to the supports that churches will need financially and in other ways as a result of the pandemic. Writing from Canada, they call public officials to recognize the needs of this moment not just in terms of social, economic, educational, and medical spheres, but also in the sphere of spiritual care and support for people.


_111334288_kids_976alamy“Coronavirus: Should you let your children play with other children?” – I found this practical guidance from the BBC about social distancing and children helpful as many of us navigate having children home due to school cancellations: 1) Follow guidance of local health authority on what’s safe; 2) Avoid playgrounds or other high-touch areas; 3) Go outside!; 4) Interact with friends and family over the internet or video chat. I also saw that Crossway Publishers is offering free e-resources during this time.


Music: Mahalia Jackson, “I Know It Was the Blood

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]